Since January is the time of year that many people return to or begin a low-carb diet plan, I thought I’d tackle a question that tends to come up quite frequently in the forums:
“Do I HAVE to start with Atkins Induction, or can I eat 25 to 30 grams of carbohydrates per day and still get into ketosis eventually?”
The answer to that question seems to depend on who you ask. Those who are hard-sell Atkins devotees always say, “Yes, you HAVE to start with Atkins Induction.” But they miss the most important element of the question:
“Can I eat more than 20 net carbs and still get into ketosis?”
Although most Atkins dieters can quote the benefits for drastically lowering carbs to 20 in the first two to four weeks of a low-carb diet, and they understand the general concept of individual carbohydrate sensitivity, they seem to have difficulty transferring that understanding to Induction.
For some reason, most low-carb dieters insist that 20 net carbs and a high-fat intake is the ONLY way to do Atkins Induction. In fact, their stance is so solid, that many will even tell you that if you don’t do it that way, you’re not doing Atkins.
There isn’t anything magical about 20 net carbs and getting into ketosis. If there were, then Protein Power, which allows 30 net carbs, wouldn’t work. Protein Power differs from Atkins Induction quite substantially, but both programs put you into the state of ketosis, and both programs work equally well. Neither program is better than the other.
The idea isn’t to strap yourself into one particular low-carb diet program. Although it is a good idea to pick a plan you can easily live with, and use that program as the foundation for your diet, keep in mind that many people have the potential to go into ketosis at much higher levels than 20. Atkins Induction begins at 20 net carbs because only the most severe insulin resistant individuals cannot go into ketosis at that extreme level.
And yes, 20 net carbs per day is quite extreme.
That level of intake should only be used long-term if your insulin resistance is severe. It should never be used for faster weight loss because your body will adapt to whatever level of carbohydrate you eat long term. That can potentially make it impossible to add additional carbohydrates back into your diet later on, without regaining.
I’ve seen that problem in quite a few people over the years. Those who ate between 35 and 45 net carbs during Ongoing Weight Loss (now called Phase 2) were able to go up to around 60 to 100 net carbs per day, or even more. Those who chose to stay at 20 net carbs during the entire weight-loss phase because they wanted to get the weight off faster or because it was easier couldn’t add back even 5.
Now, some of that problem was simply a fear of replacing glycogen and water, but the body does adapt to whatever you eat over the long term. Plus, there is a direct relationship between the amount of carbohydrates you eat and the amount of fat you can eat. Many of these people wanted to hang onto their high fat intake.
That’s one of those tricky questions, because many low-carb dieters also tend to believe that there is something magical about the state of ketosis. Biologically, anything less than 100 grams of carbohydrates per day will put you into the state of ketosis because at that level your liver will have to use your carbohydrate stores (the glycogen stored in the liver) to supply the brain with glucose.
That is what defines ketosis. The state of ketosis is not defined by the amount of ketones you have backed up in your bloodstream that your body hasn’t used yet. It has to do with supplying your brain with fuel.
Although Dr. Atkins believed that 60 grams of total carbohydrates per day (not “net”) was too high for most folks to get into the state of ketosis, he was basing that opinion on his own experience and the experience with his patients as well as the amount of ketones they were throwing off into the urine.
Keep in mind that before the ‘90s, health insurance didn’t pay for medical treatment associated with overweight or obesity. Most of Dr. Atkins’ patients had gastrointestinal issues, which is one of the reasons why the diet was originally designed to be so low in vegetable matter. That is what he personally told those of us who belonged to the Atkins boards in the late ‘90s.
However, many of those patients eventually disclosed that they had cheated on Atkins Induction and were actually eating 1/2-cup steamed vegetables along with their salad, yet they still lost weight. So in the ‘90s, Dr. Atkins changed his diet from 2 cups of loosely packed salad per day to 2/3 cup of cooked vegetables along with that salad to reflect his patients’ experiences. He upped that amount again to 1 cup of cooked vegetables in 2002.
The Atkins books are designed to help as many dieters as possible to enter into the state of ketosis, but many people, including myself, can eat far more than 20 net carbs. In fact, I can personally get into ketosis within a week at 60 carbs per day – and that’s in my current disabled condition. I’m not active, not even slightly.
Getting into ketosis isn’t what defines the amount of carbohydrates you can eat and lose body fat. The KEY to fat loss on any low-carb diet is your degree of Insulin Resistance. That’s what most dieters really want to know:
“How many carbs per day can I eat and still lose body fat?”
It is your degree of insulin resistance, hormonal imbalances, and other metabolic issues that set the amount of carbohydrates you can eat and still lose body fat. While I can get into ketosis on 60 grams of carbohydrates per day, if my protein isn’t adequate and my fat and calorie intake very low, I won’t lose body fat. In fact, I can even GAIN because my metabolic rate is extremely low. It’s only about 10 calories per pound of total body weight. That’s my current maintenance level for calories, which isn’t much when you consider what that will translate into at my ideal weight of 125.
Atkins Induction is a great plan. It is set up help you find your particular carbohydrate tolerance, but finding your personal level of carbohydrates isn’t the only factor in losing body fat. The amount of protein, dietary fat, and calories you eat all play a role, and those amounts won’t be the same for every one.
That’s why dieting can be just a juggling act.
*If you’re new to my blog, or even if you aren’t, don’t forget to scroll down to the comment section and let me know what you think. Questions are certainly welcome. I’d also appreciate knowing what type of low-carb diet you’re doing. I talk a lot about Atkins here because that’s what my personal plan is based on, but I’m extremely familiar with many types of low-carb diet plans.